An overlong prequel that hits the notes but misses the targets.
When you hear Rachel Zegler’s singing voice, you know she has a gift, especially when she became a revelation in “West Side Story.” She displays that quite well in “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” and she has a much better character study than she was given last March in “Shazam: Fury of the Gods.” But what prevents me from recommending this “Hunger Games” prequel is its inability to take risks and actually test our senses. In fact, it’s more of the same, but much longer.
It runs for 2 hours and 38 minutes, and I’m wondering if every scene in necessary since young Coriolanus Snow will transition into the villain played by Donald Sutherland. You think it should be over once we have our champion, but it just keeps going and going. If you ask me, I’m developing such little interest in this franchise, that I didn’t even watch the trailers. It’s also part of a trick my grandfather (rest his soul) taught me. I’m not as indulged as Hollywood thinks I am.
The story takes place during the 10th annual Hunger Games. You know, the game in which youngsters from different districts must kill each other, leaving only one champion. Before Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark broke that tradition with their everlasting love, there was a faze when fans were beginning to have a lack of interest, which would have led to its cancellation. If I were there at the time, I would have hoped it was cancelled.
And before he became the President of Penam, Coriolanus Snow (now played by Tom Blyth) made the suggestion that mentors speak with their tributes, as a way to really express their emotions and fight to the death. His tribute is Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler), who is known for her singing rebellion, especially since she’s in the traveling music group known as the Covey. He develops feelings for her, and is even willing to cheat her way out alive.
The new cast also consists of Viola Davis as Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the one who had the gaul to create the Hunger Games; Peter Dinklage as the Dean of the Academy and author of the games, who dislikes his students, especially Snow; Jason Schwartzman as “weatherman and amateur magician” Lucretius “Lucky” Flickerman, who is hosting the game for the first time; Josh Andres Rivera as Snow’s rich friend Sejanus Plinth, who can buy his way out of almost every situation; Burn Gorman as Commander Hoff, a peacekeepers leader whom Snow must train under; Hunter Schafer as Snow’s older cousin; and Fionnula Flanagan as their strict grandma.
“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” was once again directed by Francis Lawrence, who has been directing all the “Hunger Games” sequels since “Catching Fire.” Here, he has attractive production designs, Zegler singing her heart out, and likable performances from Blyth, Dinklage, and Schwartzman, but he doesn’t have a story worth caring about. In fact, I started to get bored once the games were over, and it took me awhile for me to grasp that this was supposed to be baby steps in transitioning Snow into the villain.
It’s basically the same complaint I had with “The Marvels” last week, it doesn’t push the story to new limits, and relies on the same old problems. It’s amazing that I praised Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which runs for 3 hours and 30 minutes, and yet, I’m complaining that “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” which an hour shorter than that, is taking too long to get to the point. That film was more compelling and complex; this one barely had anything worth caring about.
Maybe there will be a better prequel-sequel. Maybe not. I can’t recommend it, because there are better movies to be made and seen. “The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” isn’t one of them. Sorry, kids.